Real Madrid had all of the chances and most of the ball, yet came within four minutes from leaving Italy frustrated after a toothless display against 10-man Atalanta.
The truth is, without Karim Benzema, the Blancos are a blunt knife, and it took a bolt from the blue from left-back Ferland Mendy, on his weaker right foot, to finally break the deadlock.
Zinedine Zidane will be delighted with a 1-0 triumph on the road which gives his team a fine chance of progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals, but a more clinical Madrid would have sewn this up in the first half.
Their problems with injuries have certainly contributed. With Zidane’s squad thinning ever further, he only had one first-team outfield player on his bench, the lesser-spotted Mariano Diaz, while out-of-favour Isco was parachuted in to play as a false nine.
The Spain international's last start came in January's Copa del Rey defeat by Alcoyano, while his previous one was the 4-1 thrashing by Valencia in November.
Madrid’s entire XI in Italy had a paltry three goals in the competition this season between them at kick-off. Mendy left it late to make that four.
A great chance, then, it seemed for the outsiders from Bergamo, but the officials quickly set back the hosts, who were reduced to 10 men in the 17th minute after Remo Freuler was harshly dismissed for a foul on the advancing Mendy.
It felt the like the challenge warranted an ‘orange’ card, given he was not the last man nor did the Madrid left-back have a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Duvan Zapata soon followed him, with the Colombia striker suffering a muscle injury in his left leg and having to be withdrawn, leaving the Italians licking their wounds and clearly on the back foot.
Madrid dominated the first half despite not creating clear chances, with Isco and Vinicius Junior firing over. It is a constant theme with the Brazilian, who repeated the trick after the break and quickly was withdrawn for Mariano after 57 minutes.
Given Madrid’s struggles in front of goal, that felt like a punitive measure from Zidane. With just 12 goals in 99 Real Madrid games for Vinicius, you can understand the coach’s frustration.
It might as well have been Marco Asensio who was taken off, with the Spaniard absent, uninvolved, unable to bring the spark a player of his potential should offer.
Madrid’s midfield, those quadruple Champions League winners of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, worked hard and well, but without anyone to take advantage, it looked like they would leave with only a stalemate to show for it.
In the end they nabbed a narrow victory, but the tie is not over when it might have been. Atalanta will take hope from Casemiro’s booking which rules him out of the second leg, with the Brazilian an essential cog in Madrid’s midfield and one of the top three players at the club even though he is not as feted as some of his team-mates.
Along with having their full complement of players for the 90 minutes next time around barring any further dismissals, Madrid showed nothing to scare Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, last gasp stroke of luck aside.
That is unmitigable, and it seems Madrid so often profit from them. It cannot be simple fortune; Zidane’s team fought until the end and at least created the conditions for the luck to arrive.
That is what they did on their trudge to the Spanish title last season, showing grit, consistency, but little brilliance.
The record 13-time European Cup winners are more bark than bite these days, especially with Benzema on the sidelines.
But with luck on their side, they can never be ruled out.